Claiming Your Success

"I really enjoy it best when I'm not bothered by my self-critical voices. Then, I just get involved in the work and stop thinking that it's awful."

-student marilyn wald

Being positive about one's accomplishment, no matter how small, is more challenging than identifying what's wrong. Many beginners can easily find what's not working, but rarely what's good. Perhaps they think it seems immodest to claim a success, that it runs counter to what society teaches us is acceptable. But skillful students are able to identify the right path, the sturdy footholds in their work, so they know how to proceed. Take your lead from them. Finding what works, no matter how small, needs to be part of your method because:

• It provides the incentive to fix what isn't working. After all, why develop the ability to improve anything if there's nothing worth fixingf

• It gives you an example to follow, so you can mimic the specific qualities of line that are successful in your work.

• You need it to maintain your drawing progress because ultimately, you 're the one who is in charge of your work. Identifying what works develops your powers of observation as well as nourishing your self-confidence. This constructive approach will help you to see the larger picture in the drawing process. It will put into perspective those imperfect results that are bound to occur as you learn skills you've never had before.

Think of walking, of learning your native language, all much more complex than this process will be. Your approach to drawing will not be all accepting and unconditional. It will be a balance between recognizing what works and what doesn't, and using your growing skill repertoire from which to choose the tools needed to fix what needs fixing. By exercising your capacity for constructive evaluation, you will learn how to be both player and coach effectively.

"At first when I did the drawings, I would be very critical, but after a while, I said to myself, Well, it's not that bad. After all, I went from absolute zero to being able to draw something!"

-student barbara kops

This doesn't mean negative comments have no place in the process. Get it out there! With every classroom of beginners, I hear a chorus of frustrated grumbles and complaints, so you are not alone or odd if you do the same. By all means, moan and groan if any particular level of frustration gets to you. However, practicing the constructive approach will help you to "get back on the horse" and keep moving ahead. Complaining and learning to be a constructive critic are both integral parts of learning to draw.


You may have had the experience of locking into a particular object, committing intense energy and interest to exploring the shape and line you saw. You may have felt unaware of time passing. This type of experience, almost like being mesmerized by what you see, usually yields strong and interesting work.

"I thought it took about forty-five minutes to do the drawing, but when I looked up, hours had gone by. Stuff had gone on all around me, but I was just focused on this drawing and everything else fell away. "

-student stephanie seidel

The objects you've drawn may be distorted or slightly out of proportion as compared with the originals. But it's just that quality that gives them character-that may actually turn inanimate objects into animated characters. If there is more than one image on a page in your drawing pad, those characters may seem to be in an emotionally charged relationship. What would they say if they could speak to one another? How would someone else interpret that page? If you aren't too shy, show it to a relative or friend and ask what those characters suggest to them.

Artists create relationships between inanimate objects-fruit, flowers, teacups, wine glasses—where no real connection exists. Artists project their own human vitality into landscape and still life, as well as into pure abstract shapes. You may see evidence of this creative vitality in the animation of your own objects. The "distortion" isn't a mistake. It's a gift.

In a classroom full of beginners or artists at any level, each person will draw the same objects differently, though recognizably. By now, you may see some evidence of your own innate aesthetic, that unique and automatic preference for a certain scale, shape, rhythm—something very central to your individuality. It's already there. You just need to learn how to let it show in a more fully realized manner.

When you have as your goal the careful inspection of shapes and edges that make up specific items, everyday objects like these can take on heightened visual appeal, student drawings, from top, by tracey m. robinson, |ane wolansky, kathy epstein

Claiming Your Success

A dramatic encounter between dinosaurlike tools and a reticent radish wasn't the conscious intent of this artist, but the natural result of the energy transferred to inanimate objects in the drawing process, drawings by student ann porfilio

You've begun to understand that if you want to learn how to represent a recognizable image, the way to do it is to forget about the generic concept of the object and concentrate instead on the visual component parts that make up its overall image. During periods of active drawing, you have learned to leave behind the words you used effectively in the past to define your perception of an object-as in, "That's a beautiful flower"-and give precedence to observing and recording the particular patterns of the specific flower that attracts you.

You've begun a new visual orientation, comparable to slipping new software into a perfectly capable computer. Your eye and mind are accustomed to looking at the world for the purpose of recognizing "flower." Now they need time to adjust to your new goal: the careful inspection of the shapes and edges that make up a specific flower, so that you can draw it with greater confidence and

"/ love roses, their scent, their shape and color—how straight lines could blend into sharp, jagged curves so fluidly. At first, I was fearful to just let the pen go. Somehow as each line progressed, I felt the rose taking shape. I liked what I saw, even though it wasn't an exact duplicate. Building on each petal gave me a sense of excitement to see the finished product, and I didn't mind if it took hours." —student kristen nimr

A dramatic encounter between dinosaurlike tools and a reticent radish wasn't the conscious intent of this artist, but the natural result of the energy transferred to inanimate objects in the drawing process, drawings by student ann porfilio


The instinct that got you to open this book and start drawing can continue to play a crucial part in the success of your endeavor. I encourage you to keep your go-ahead spirit going. You can do as much or as little as is comfortable. Think of this process as learning something about drawing, rather than feeling you have to learn everything about drawing all at once.

You can now represent anything you see in contour line, although not yet as realistically, accurately, or convincingly as you would wish. You've seen and experienced that line has inherent qualities aside from its utility in representing recognizable objects. We'll make use of the sketched line next, both to add accuracy techniques, and for just plain fun.

Most important is to do at least two more contour drawings of three-dimensional objects, maintaining the contour-drawing technique. Use your pen; it will keep you from equivocating.

"Something clicked inside niy mind and I was able to see things differently. Instead of looking at what I was drawing as a whole thing, I looked at its parts."

-student tracey m. robinson

"When I first walked into drawing class, I was seventy years old. I had never drawn anything in my life. And I was sure I couldn't, but I had always wanted to. I started drawing at the top of the handle and worked my way down. I drew the bristles last, starting on the left-hand side. It was at that point that the pen seemed to take off on its own, and I was amazed and thrilled at the result! —student sally monahan

Anatomical Leg Drawings
drawing by student al roberts
Anatomical Leg Drawings

chapter 3

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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